Wars’ living victims honor the dead, push for peace
Three-year-old Maram Ahmed darted among the 88 pairs of black boots arranged within a circle, toes all pointing to the waterfront. Each pair had a white label bearing the name of a Massachusetts victim of the Afghan or Iraqi wars.
The girl’s mother, Ayfer Abed-Aljabar, and father, Oday Mahmood, stood close by in Christopher Columbus Park in the North End, recalling their flight from Iraq, after his job with the US military made him a target. An attempt on his life prompted a move to Syria. The family lived there for about two years before moving this year to Lowell, where a growing group of Iraqi refugees has taken root.
“I lost my friends,’’ Mahmood said. “We want peace — just peace,’’ his wife added.
As a group of people came ashore from a boat in the Boston Harbor, Rafal Al-Saad, 16, raised two fingers, flashing the international peace symbol at them.
Draped in a red, white, black, and green scarf — the colors of the Iraqi flag — Al-Saad, a Lowell High School senior, spoke eagerly in English and Arabic about returning to her homeland and becoming a doctor. But first, she said, the fighting must stop.
As a crowd gathered at the park, she described her hopes for her country in Arabic, with her father, Farouk, interpreting.
“I hope that Iraq will witness again peace and tranquility — first of all, to unify our country, instead of dividing it,’’ she said. “Of course we hope to get rid of the occupation. After that we can go back to our country.’’
Her mother, Nawal Thyab, dressed in black, said she lost 25 family members in the war and its aftermath.
“I’m in black to express sadness,’’ she said through her husband. “We hope that we will witness security and peace in Iraq.’’
Those family members were included in the nontraditional Memorial Day commemoration, and carnations were cast into the harbor in their honor, as well as to commemorate US troops who lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“There will be no guns, no drums,’’ organizer Pat Scanlon of the Veterans for Peace, said in his opening remarks.
American and Iraqi flags, along with flags bearing symbols of peace, waved in the background. Some also bore the names of organizations formed in recent years, including Military Families Speak Out, which helped to organize the event. The boots nearby were displayed as part of the American Friends Service Committee’s traveling exhibit representing the Iraqi and Afghan war victims.
Ross Caputi, an Iraq War veteran and president of the Boston University Anti-War Coalition, said he spent recent Memorial Day commemorations being hailed as a hero for helping to capture Fallujah. Since then, the former Marine said, he has come to see the loss of his friends and colleagues in the war as “senseless,’’ and questioned how much was gained by their efforts.
“What about our freedom and democracy?’’ he asked. “Our freedom and democracy was trampled on.’’
For Joyce and Kevin Lucey, whose son Jeffrey, of Belchertown, killed himself 11 months after returning from the war at age 23, the biggest issue has been trying to bring awareness to the postwar suicides that have taken place throughout the country.
“We just hope that our government and our great nation recognizes those so long ignored,’’ Kevin Lucey said.
Organizers also paid tribute to Howard Zinn, a historian and political activist who was a member of the Veterans for Peace, with friends recalling his energy and dedication to progressive causes. Zinn died in January.
Near the end of the commemoration, Rafal Al-Saad wiped tears from her eyes, as she read a poem she had written.
It read, in part:
They were greedy for petrol
He was dying for water
Guns of fighting parties are scaring him
His parents were speaking to him of peace of mind and tranquility
And as fledgling he cherished memories of those days.
He lost them the moment the invaders arrived
We entered into a deserted bunker
And prayed for peace.
Emma Stickgold can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.